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UnitedHealth Group Might Move When Lease Expires

KENNETH R. GOSSELIN

February 26, 2009

UnitedHealth Group, one of the largest employers in downtown Hartford, said it may move from its twin towers on Columbus Boulevard once its lease expires next year.

The insurer, which employs 2,300 in the city, confirmed Wednesday that "we are, indeed, evaluating our occupancy options in the Hartford market," including its existing space at Connecticut River Plaza.

"Our preference is to remain in Hartford, and I would say that rather strongly," said Daryl Richard, a UnitedHealth spokesman in Hartford.

UnitedHealth now occupies about 500,000 square feet of office space at Connecticut River Plaza. Only one building in downtown Hartford CityPlace I contains roughly enough space to accommodate the insurer at one location, including 375,000 square feet vacated by MetLife.

UnitedHealth is considering CityPlace as an option, sources said.

Richard declined to rule out a move to the suburbs, an option that UnitedHealth has considered in the past.

Such a move would be a devastating blow to downtown after last year's move of MetLife from the central business district to Bloomfield. The move took 1,300 workers out of downtown amid a deepening recession and pushed up the office vacancy rate there.

Negotiations to keep UnitedHealth at Connecticut River Plaza have been ongoing for months.

"We've had discussions but haven't come to an agreement," said Shawn McMahon, a broker at Jones Lang LaSalle in Hartford, which is representing the building's owner, Connecticut River Plaza Trust, an investor group.

Neither side would comment on what issues separate them.

The investor group decided to begin looking for a new tenant because UnitedHealth's lease expires in August 2010 relatively soon, considering the amount of space that could become vacant.

A deepening recession has given tenants an upper hand in lease negotiations because many businesses are downsizing.

That has forced landlords to weigh what they are demanding at the negotiating table with the prospect of tenants going somewhere else.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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